Citing an increase in violent crime and staffing shortages, the San Diego Police Department will exceed its overtime budget by an estimated $9.2 million by the end of the fiscal year, it was announced Monday.
SDPD Chief Dave Nisleit presented an update on the department’s budget at a meeting of the San Diego City Council Monday, announcing that through the most recent period of November, the department had hit $21.3 million in overtime of the total budgeted $40.2 million. Despite the stated reasons for the overtime, he did not present data at the meeting regarding any increase in crime — violent or otherwise.
No action was taken on the informational item, but it could steer council policy toward hiring for the department and other public safety positions. As of January, there were 216 vacancies for sworn officers — an increase of 13% since 2019. Civilian position vacancies were even more dramatic, a 117% increase in open slots since 2019 and 113% for dispatcher vacancies in the same time period.
Michael Zucchet, former San Diego City Councilman and current San Diego Port Commissioner, gave a presentation which pinned much of the blame on lack of civilian hirings leading to sworn officers work civilian positions and receiving overtime.
“You do what you have to do in an emergency situation, you don’t want a 911 call going to hold,” Zucchet said. “But that’s nuts as a long term budget strategy.”
Zucchet cited the city’s own findings that it will lose $2.3 million due to lost parking citation revenue when he said that each parking enforcement officer brings in $350,000 to the city each year.
Council President Pro Tem Monica Montgomery Steppe said she was concerned about officers overextending themselves working these overtime hours and developing health problems.
Nisleit acknowledged the concerns about sworn officers working civilian positions and racking up overtime hours, but said that was uncommon. He said in January, a sworn officer worked for 52 hours in the city’s dispatch to fill in for civilians.
“I do not want police officers working in there, but I am not going to let emergency response time suffer,” he said.
Other members of the council agreed with Nisleit.
“I’m not as concerned by the overtime,” said Councilman Joe LaCava. “I know that public safety is not as predictable as other departments.”
Other increases in overtime include around $1 million in negotiated union salary increases after the city’s budget was developed, $850,000 in holiday overtime and $720,000 in special event overtime — including policing related to July 4 and the Padres making the playoffs.
The SDPD’s Neighborhood Policing Division has reduced activity, saving $2.2 million from an pre-adjustment estimate of $13.1 million in overtime, according to city documents. Other factors reducing the overtime to that net $9.2 million figure the police department is planning for include reductions in court time, mandated overtime and staffing shortages.
Council President Sean Elo-Rivera ended the informational item by posing some rhetorical questions about what the San Diego Police Department’s mission is, and whether officers should be advocates for political positions while on the clock.
“Having mission drift doesn’t seem helpful,” he said.
Elo-Rivera said going forward, he wanted the city to provide more civilian support such as social workers to help the city’s unhoused population and take that job off the backs of officers.
City News Service contributed to this article.